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‘GoTG’ Director James Gunn Defends Zendaya Casting In ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’
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Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s diverse casting is a reflection of today’s society. Tony Revolori plays Flash Thompson, Laura Harrier will play Liz Allen, and Jacob Batalon will play Ned Leeds. So as you can see, characters traditionally depicted as Caucasian are being played by minorities, and when those characters were confirmed, there didn’t seem to be any uproar. But when it was announced that Zendaya would be playing Mary Jane Watson, not Michelle, there was an outrage.

Unsurprisingly, many came to the defense of the casting decision, most notably James Gunn, the director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, who has been be quite vocal about controversial topics like these. Check out what he had to say here below.

Gunn posted his comments on his official Facebook page:

Here’s what he had to say just in case you cannot see the embed.

People get upset when something they consider intrinsic to a comic book character changes when adapted for a film. I get this. There are movies I dislike because I think there’s a basic misunderstanding of the story or the character when the comic is transferred to film (I still hate how in the first Batman movie the Joker was revealed as the murderer of Bruce Wayne’s parents, for instance.)

That said, I do not believe a character is the color of his or her skin. When Michael B Jordan was cast as Johnny Storm I didn’t understand the uproar. The primary characteristic of Johnny was not, to me, that he was white, or that he had blonde hair, but that he was a fiery, funny, big-mouthed braggart of a hero. I was happy that he was going to be played by one of the finest and most charming young actors out there.

Yesterday, a rumor broke out that the character of Mary Jane was being played by a young black woman, Zendaya, and all hell broke out on the Internet (again). I tweeted that if people find themselves complaining about Mary Jane’s ethnicity they have lives that are too good. (For those of you who think this means I’m confirming that Zendaya IS playing MJ, realize that although I’ve read the Spidey script, and I’ve met the actress in question, I have no idea what her role is. There’s a good chance someone told me at one time or another, but, if so, I can’t remember. I’m going to find out when I go into Marvel this afternoon, but I feel free to speak until that time because it’s about the concept about a black woman playing Mary Jane, not the actuality or hypothesis of it.)

I got a thousand or so responses to my tweet. Most of them were positive. Some folks disagreed – they thought the character should look like what she looks like in the comics – but were thoughtful. And a handful were flat out racist.

I can’t respond to the racists – I’m not ever going to change their minds. But for the thoughtful majority of you out there:

For me, if a character’s primary attribute – the thing that makes them iconic – is the color of their skin, or their hair color, frankly, that character is shallow and sucks. For me, what makes MJ MJ is her alpha female playfulness, and if the actress captures that, then she’ll work. And, for the record, I think Zendaya even matches what I think of as MJ’s primary physical characteristics – she’s a tall, thin model – much more so than actresses have in the past.

Whatever the case, if we’re going to continue to make movies based on the almost all white heroes and supporting characters from the comics of the last century, we’re going to have to get used to them being more reflective of our diverse present world. Perhaps we can be open to the idea that, although someone may not initially match how we personally conceive a character, we can be – and often are – happily surprised.”

There has been a lot of backlash when it comes to casting leading roles or even comic book roles like this. Most recently, Matt Damon’s role in The Great Wall has been met with controversy, while many found it hard to believe that Emma Stone was playing a character who was part Asian in Aloha. But those are characters without a mythology as rich as Mary Jane Watson’s, and to reduce her to her aesthetics really reduces her character as a whole. MJ is beyond the Caucasian skin and traditional red hair. She plays by her own set of rules, is a strong and independent woman, and, really, she refuses to be the damsel in distress. If anything, that is what I hope director Jon Watts gets right in Homecoming.

Again, it is a bit odd that there’s a negative response to Zendaya as MJ, yet there wasn’t any uproar for the casting of non-white actors, Revolori, Harrier, or Batalon, to play characters who are white in the comics. So if you are going to troll, at least be consistent about it. Honestly, there should not be any uproar about anything as insignificant as a casting a character. I get that these characters are dear to all of us, and I should know, I’ve read the comics, I’ve seen the animated shows, and the casting of Zendaya as MJ is probably the best thing for the Spider-Man universe. It shows that we are beyond skin color and that if we can get the character right, then there is nothing to worry about.

[Source: James Gunn Facebook]

3 Comments »

  1. There might not have been as large a backlash, but there was still a backlash. It isn’t “trolling” wanting the characters to, you know, look like the characters. I know, such an amazing notion. At least nowadays.

    Comment by goose — August 22, 2016 @ 2:43 pm

  2. “to reduce her to her aesthetics really reduces her character as a whole.”

    Unless a black character is changed to be non-black, then it’s racism.

    Comment by morphoyle — August 22, 2016 @ 3:09 pm

  3. I think it is more important that the get the characterization right than the look because we don’t love these characters on how they look but on how they act.

    Comment by Stephen Welch — August 22, 2016 @ 3:16 pm

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